How to Write an Entry Level Resume

Throughout my 20+ year hiring career, including my most recent role as VP Global Talent Acquisition at Amazon, I've reviewed tens of thousands of entry level resumes. Some were good. Most were not. I've seen what works for entry level resumes. And what doesn't work.

Your entry level resume will not get you the entry level job you are seeking, it is just a tool to accomplish one step of the process. But a poor resume can keep you from getting the interview and ultimately the job itself. So make sure your entry level resume is rock solid before you begin your job search.

Step 1: Use the right entry level resume format

The foundational key to a successful entry level resume is starting with the right format. It is important to understand the difference between format and content. The format is the structure and layout of the resume, including each section and how it is properly formatted on screen and on paper. What to put on a resume—the content—ultimately matters more, but you must have somewhere to put it. And that is where format come in. The ideal format will work well both electronically (for submission both via email and online) as well as on paper (for use by the interviewer). And this format is usually where most college students and recent grads struggle the first time they make a resume. Or they end up using the wrong format, like the pre-formatted Word resume templates included with Microsoft Office which are not designed for entry level college grads.

The good news is that CollegeGrad.com provides you with the correct format to use for free. Our award-winning Quickstart Resume Templates are pre-formatted Word documents that allow you to quickly and simply place your resume content into our entry level resume format. They are available online for your free use. And our Quickstart Resume Generator tool allows you to quickly build your entry level resume online and export as a Word doc. Use these entry level resume tools as your starting point for creating your entry level resume.

Step 2: Contact section

This is the easiest section of your resume. The only core requirements for you are to include your name, phone number and email address. For your name, use First Last as the format unless you have a common name, in which case you may want to use either a middle initial or your full middle name to help uniquely identify yourself. However, it's still acceptable to use just First Last as the format even if you are Jane Smith or John Jones, since your phone number and email address are both uniquely your own. I usually recommend middle initial as the standard, but it's your personal choice.

Including your physical address is optional, at your discretion. It does give the resume reviewer and interviewer and indicator of where you are presently located physically. You can include either your campus address or your home address, whichever is preferable. Or you can include both by stacking one left justified and the other right justified. Your address would be listed directly below your name and before your phone number and email address. It is no longer a requirement to include "M:" or "C:" before your phone number to indicate mobile or cell, since that is now the standard assumption, so just listing your phone number in either (123) 456-7890 or 123-456-7890 format is acceptable.

Make sure the email address you use is either generic to your name (i.e. First.Last@gmail.com or First.Last@college.edu) or at least broadly generic. If your personal email address is a funny or snarky name or phrase or even a personal nickname, now is the time to go to Gmail and get a new email address set up specifically for your job search. Then make sure you are checking your inbox regularly.

Step 3: Entry level job objective section

This is the hardest section of your resume to get right. Because how you define your resume objective will drive both the content for the resume as well as the direction of your job search. Your entry level job objective section should be broad enough to be inclusive of all job opportunities for which you are qualified and want to be considered, yet specific enough to be exclusive of all job opportunities for which you are either not qualified or do not want to be considered. This is where you need to finally put a stake in the ground on who you want to be when you grow up and what you want to do with your college education in the world of work.

Do not skip this section or take the advice of a resume writer who tells you that you can leave it off your resume. I am speaking from the other-side-of-the-desk perspective as someone who has hired and, perhaps more importantly, not hired thousands of entry level college grads. It is not my job to figure out what you want to do in your work life. That's your job. Take the time to get it right. Once you have your job objective narrowed down, your job search will become more targeted and focused. Your objective should be a combination of one, two or three parameters: 1) job type; 2) industry; and/or 3) geography. Do your best to get it right, yet don't let this keep you from getting started. Take your best shot at it now, knowing that you can further narrow or broaden your job objective in the future. If you need more help with writing your job objective, check out our How To Write a Resume Objective guide to walk you through each step in the development of your personal resume objective.

Step 4: Education section

Your entry level education section can be as minimal as two lines or, on the other end of the spectrum, could potentially fill the majority of the page. The quantity you use depends on how much other content you have, especially in the experience section. You basically have a budget of 45-55 lines to spend on your resume. How you allocate them depends on how you value each line of potential content. Or, more specifically, how the resume reviewer will value them. Spend these lines wisely. At a minimum, you need to list your degree and the date you will receive it on the first line, then your college or university and location on the second line. I often see these two lines reversed, which is incorrect. Ask the question: Which is more important to the resume reviewer, the college you graduated from or the degree you received? Clearly, it's the latter and that's where the resume reviewer's eye will go first. So list it first. These two mandatory lines will continue in your professional resume for the remainder of your career.

However, at the entry level, you have the opportunity to list additional information. Specifically, your GPA and your coursework. List your GPA if it is above 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. If your overall GPA is under 3.0, but your major GPA is above 3.0, list your major GPA instead. And do not list your GPA if both are under 3.0. For coursework, you can list as many courses as you deem relevant to your objective, but remember that you are using up lines which could be used elsewhere in your resume. If you have significant internship experience, you may want to either minimize this subsection or remove it entirely. But for most entry level resumes, you will want to list your most important classes in reverse order of importance in a one-, two- or three-column format. You can include all classes that you expect to complete by graduation (or by summer if you are writing your internship resume). You do not have to use the formal class name provided by your university. Use a descriptive name if it provides a better description of the actual class content for the resume reviewer.

Step 5: Experience section

The experience section is the most highly variable section for entry level resumes. Most entry level resumes tend to fairly consistent in the education section, especially for graduates in the same major at the same college. After all, classmates in your major sitting next to you in class have usually taken most of the same classes. So the experience section is often the key differentiator. If you are still early in your college career, I cannot stress enough how important it is to work to build out your resume experience through internships and summer jobs tied to your major. Applicants with relevant internships will always stand out above those with no work experience or little experience.

Yet even if you do not have formal internship experience, any work experience which can be tied to your objective is important. Each job listing in the experience section includes three subsections: 1) title and employment dates; 2) employer and location; and 3) job description and/or summary of accomplishments and delivered results. Note that this last subsection is what is the most uniquely you. Others could have similar internships with similar employers and even similar or same internship titles. But what you delivered in your role is the key overall differentiator. The job description is fine as an intro, but it was written before you even set foot in the building. A job description is a listing of the features of the experience. The benefits of the experience are what you actually delivered. The listing of the results you achieved. Not only is this information key differentiating resume content, it will also form the basis of your behavioral answering in your future interviews. The results you delivered are what will set you apart from others in seeking your entry level job.

Step 6: Optional sections: Summary, Skills, Activities and/or Awards sections

If you have filled out a full page with the four sections above, you are finished. If not and you are looking to add additional content to fill out the page, there are four additional sections you can consider adding to bolster your qualifications.

Summary is a review of who you are in two or three key bullet points. It goes immediately after the objective section and before your education section.

Skills is a section where you can list specific keywords that are relevant to your role. These should be keywords which indicate a level of proficiency in a skill or competency you can use to be an immediate contributor. This also is placed before the education section.

The activities section is often used by entry level grads who are light on experience, but have notable activities during college which show leadership or proficiency in an area tied to the major. Another use of the activities section is to include notable class projects, especially cornerstone/capstone projects related to your major. However, note that if any of these activities are paid roles, they can and should shift to the experience section. Activities should be placed after the experience section. Awards can be used if you have two or more notable awards achieved which are not otherwise incorporated into other parts of the resume and would be placed at the end of your resume.

Each of these optional sections should only be used if you have the space on one page to further fill out the page. They should not be used to lengthen the resume beyond one page. Our Quickstart Resume Templates are pre-filled with examples of resume content you can use in these sections.

Step 7: Save your entry level resume using the right file format

Your baseline resume should be saved in Word file format for flexibility in making future changes. Use "First_Last.docx" for the file name. But then save the final resume you deliver to employers as a PDF in .pdf format using the same file name convention: First_Last.pdf. Do not make the mistake of adding additional qualifiers in the file name such as "Entry_Level" or a job type, industry, geography, employer name or version number. It is acceptable for you to have multiple versions of your resume if you are targeting a specific subset, but the best way to practice version control is to save each different versions in a different folder, while retaining the same file name. Then make sure you keep each respective resume updated with any universal changes you might make to your baseline resume.

Last step is to save your resume in text format (.txt), but make sure you also preview your text resume for proper formatting. Most resume submissions will be in either PDF or TXT formats. PDF is the resume file standard for attaching to an email or online file submission, while TXT is the resume file standard for copy-and-paste of your resume into an online application.

Now that you have your resume completed, it's time to put it to work! Take a look at Entry Level Job Postings that are currently posted at CollegeGrad.com to begin submitting your resume for entry level jobs near you.

Congrats! You are now on your way!


More "How to" Guides:

How to Get an Entry Level Job

How to Write a Resume Objective

How to Write an Internship Resume

How to Interview